April 28, 2020

Just in case . . . the great John D. Burgess’s most prized prizes

John D. Burgess with full regalia and awards on display. The banner is the John Player Gold Banner, a big invitational MSR event held in the 1970s.

We showed you Captain John A. MacLellan MBE’s personal medals case a week ago, and now we have a look at the medals showcase of the great Pipe-Major John D. Burgess MBE.

We had a look at his most prized prizes back in August 1994, when we visited him at his home in Saltburn, Scotland, on the banks of the Cromarty Firth. We were there to interview him, and we republished that exclusive conversation last year.

John D. Burgess was the prized pupil of Pipe-Major Willie Ross MBE, who took him on at a very early age and saw him through his formative years and further. In 1950, at the age of sixteen, Burgess won both Highland Society of London Gold Medals. He was the youngest ever to win even one of the prizes at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban or the Northern Meeting at Inverness.

That achievement and gaining the Double are records that never to be broken unless they decide to bring the minimum age back to sixteen from eighteen, which it has been for five decades.

Burgess won most everything in solo piping. He was for a few years the pipe-major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, succeeding Donald Shaw-Ramsay and followed by Iain McLeod, both legends in their own right.

A classic image of John D. Burgess.

In 1965, he was invited by Ramsay to join the Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band, the short-lived group of all-star players that featured Alex Duthart as lead-drummer, as well as luminaries like John MacDougall, Jimmy Young, Kit Reynolds and Bert Barr.

In addition to Ross, Burgess studied piobaireachd with the great Angus MacPherson, whose link with the MacCrimmons was said to be only two generations removed.

Among Burgess’s prizes in solo competition are the Former Winners’ MSR and the Open Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering, the Former Winners’ MSR at the Northern Meeting, the Bratach Gorm, and the Grant’s Championship. One award that escaped him was the Clasp at Inverness, in which he was runner-up three times.

Many of the medals that he showcased prove challenging to identify. According to one of Burgess’s most celebrated pupils, Brian Donaldson, many of the awards in the case Burgess won when he was a junior piper.

Not in the case and known to have been awarded to him is a presentation sgian dubh that Burgess received at the Grant’s Championship (now the Glenfiddich), one of his last appearances on a competition stage.

Burgess was perhaps the last of the non-military pipers who would show off his winnings from time to time. The covers of a series of vinyl LPs in the 1970s showed him in full display of custom Highland wear, medals, powder horn, dirk, and magnificent sporran, able to pull off a glittering look that would today go over with a thud.

He was a collector of piping pieces, plaid brooches, dirks, buckles and mementos from his career.

Here is Burgess’s medals case as it appeared in August 1994:

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.


  1. Cameron Highlanders cap badge.
  2. Donald Cameron’s plaid brooch.
  3. Member of the British Empire medal (MBE).
  4. Dunvegan Medal.
  5. Strathpeffer Games.
  6. Miller Weir medals from Luss.
  7. Bronze Star Former Winners MSR, Scottish Piping Society of London.
  8. Northern Meeting Former Winners MSR Silver Stars.
  9. Lochearnhead Games stars.
  10. Argyllshire Gathering March or Strathspey & Reel.
  11. Dornoch Games.
  12. A silver replica of the Dunvegan Medal.
  13. Chieftain’s Prize, Invergordon Games.
  14. Highland Society of London Gold Medals.
  15. Cowal Gathering medals.
  16. Kintail presentation practice chanter.
  17. Peter Henderson Silver Medals, awarded for SPA Juvenile competitions.
  18. Mid-19th century prize plaid brooch presented by the Northern Meeting for Second-Best Performance on the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Perhaps some readers might be able to identify other pieces on display in John D. Burgess, “King of Highland Pipers” personal showcase.

Sadly, John D. Burgess died due to complications after a car crash in 2005 at the age of 71. He was revered and loved by all who had the good fortune to know him, and we will never see his likes again.

Subscribers can read all about John D. Burgess in his own words in the three-part interview we conducted with the legendary man in 1994 and republished in 2018-’19. You could learn a lot by reading them.

John D. Burgess: the pipes|drums Archive Interview – Part 1
December 23, 2018


John D. Burgess: the pipes|drums Archive Interview – Part 2
January 13, 2019


John D. Burgess: the pipes|drums Archive Interview – Part 3
January 29, 2019




John D. Burgess memories
July 31, 2005

John D. Burgess, 1934-2005
June 30, 2005

Just in case . . . a look at Captain John’s most prized prizes
April 20, 2020





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